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Runaway Subduction is a Sham

Copyright 2004 G.R. Morton. This can be freely distributed so long as no changes are made and no charges are made. (home.entouch.net/dmd/subduction.htm)

Runaway subduction is a theory postulated by John Baumgardner to try to explain how the continents separated rapidly during the middle of the global flood. He postulates that frictional heat lowered the viscosity of the mantle and the pull of cool slabs descending into the mantle dragged the continents rapidly across the surface of the earth. For the sake of argument, I will assume for the time being that Baumgardner's mechanism will work (I don't think it will). If it were a viable view, the question we need to ask is “Does it fit the evidence?”

Baumgardner starts with an assumption that when the flood started, all the continents were together in Pangea. He says.

“The revolution in the earth sciences that occurred in the 1960's with the acceptance of the concepts of plate tectonics sensitized the scientific community to several important observations. One is that large displacements among the continents have occurred, particularly since the beginning of the Mesozoic part of the geological record. Evidence is strong that a single supercontinent, Pangea, existed at that point in the earth's past.” John R. Baumgardner, “Numerical Simulation of the Large-scale Tectonic Changes Accompanying the Flood,” Proc. First International Conf. On Creationism, (Pittsburgh: Creation Science Fellowship, 1986), p. 18

There is a very important point that is implicit in his acceptance of the positions of the continent throughout geologic time. That is it MUST be implicitly assumed that paleomagnetic positioning of the continents works. We will return to this later. Baumgardner then goes on to say:

“The pre-Flood earth is assumed to have a single supercontinent, an intact lithosphere, and a convecting mantle a few hundred degreees warmer than at present.” John R. Baumgardner, “Numerical Simulation of the Large-scale Tectonic Changes Accompanying the Flood,” Proc. First International Conf. On Creationism, (Pittsburgh: Creation Science Fellowship, 1986), p. 21-22

I want to document that this assumption runs all the way through Baumgardner's papers because of what is coming below. He writes in 1990:

“The assumption of a single pre-Flood supercontinent is suggested by Gen. 1:9, ‘Then God said, ‘Let the waters below the heavens be gathered into one place, and let the dry land appear’ and it was so.’” John R. Baumgardner, “3-D finite Element Simulation of the Global Tectonic Changes Accompanying Noah's Flood,” Proc. Of the Second International Conference on Creationism, Vol. II, (Pittsburgh: Creation Science Fellowship, 1990), p. 35
“This calculation illustrates that with relatively modest initial perturbations, gravitational potential energy stored in the earth's upper thermal boundary layer drives an overturning of the mantle that pulls the Pangean supercontinent apart, moves the continental blocks by thousands of kilometers, elevates much of the newly formed seafloor above sea level, floods essential all of the continental surface, and produces dramatic downwarpings of the continent margins that lie adjacent to zones of subduction.” John R. Baumgardner, “Computer Modeling of the Large-Scale Tectonics Associated with the Genesis Flood,” Proceedings of the Third International Conference on Creationism, (Pittsburgh: Creation Science Fellowship, Inc., 1994), P. 61

“One difficulty in making a connection between these calculations and the Flood is their time scale. Some 2 x 107 years is needed before the instability occurs in the second calculation. Most of this time is involved with the accumulation of a large blob of cold, dense material at the barrier created by the phase transition at 600 km depth.” John R. Baumgardner, “Runaway Subduction as the Driving Mechanism for the Genesis Flood,” Proceedings of the Third International Conference on Creationism, (Pittsburgh: Creation Science Fellowship, Inc., 1994), p. 74

“The initial shape and extent of plates, including the distribution of continental crust, is specified as an initial condition. In the case presented here, the initial plate configuration is an approximate reconstruction of Pangea derived from shapes of the present-day continents and data from the present-day ocean floor.” John R. Baumgardner, “Catastrophic Plate Tectonics: The Physics Behind the Genesis Flood,” Proceedings of the Fifth International Conference on Creationism, (Pittsburgh: Creation Science Fellowship, Inc., 2003), p. 118

Clearly for the past 18 years, Baumgardner has held that the continental configuration was of Pangea (the configuration where all the continents are amassed into one supercontinent). His acceptance of the continental configurations after the Pangean breakup implies strongly that he accepts the data of paleomagnetism which is what is used to locate the continents as they drifted across the surface of the earth.

These two items, pre-flood Pangean configuration and acceptance of paleomagnetism create a huge problem for his runaway subduction view. The continents were NOT in the Pangean configuration at the Cambrian when most Creationist believe the flood began. This is what the paleomagnetic data says. It would seem perverse of Baumgardner to accept the paleomag positions of the continents when it suites him (during Pangean Break-up) but not when it doesn't suite him (prior to the Pangean formation).

Christopher Scotese presents maps which show where the continents were during geologic history. The reality is that Pangea didn't form until the Permian time which is half way through the geologic column, or half way through the flood according to one-year global flood advocates, or until AFTER the flood according to David Tyler who believes that the flood ended in the Ordovician. The paleomagnetic positions of the continents prior to the Permian show that the continents were broken apart. Here is the Cambrian map from 514 million years ago:

Note that there is a big proto-Atlantic Ocean called the Iapetus Ocean. This ocean will close as Avalonia (part of Great Britain) slams into North America. One can see Avalonia at the bottom of the next picture. One should also watch Baltica which is moving north to slam into North America:

Behind Avalonia, the Rheic Ocean opens up.

But here is the big problem for Baumgardner's view. Avalonia moves NW (on the map) and Baltica moves N and slams into North America. Since North America is moving SE, both continents reverse direction and now start moving SE (something runaway subduction doesn't account for. As North America slams into the Gondwanaland, the Rheic Ocean closes.

By the Permian, Pangea was formed.

Only now, halfway through the geologic column is Pangea created waiting for Baumgardner's runaway subduction. This is the dirty little secret of Baumgardner's thesis. It doesn't account for the motion of the continents PRIOR to the Permian (half way through the geologic column). Because of this, Baumgardner's idea can not be the cause of the flood. It can not be the means of crustal motion (because the observed continental motion is a back and forth motion, not motion in a single direction as Baumgardner depicts it).

Once again, a continent changes direction. North America had been moving SE but now it changes direction as Pangea breaks up and moves W this time. Since Baumgardner's views only begin at this point, he has failed to explain the motion of Baltica and Avalonia. The Pangean continent is too late to be the start of the flood unless one claims that the Cambrian through Permian strata is all preflood (in contradiction to David Tyler's view as well as in contradiction to almost all creationist views which generally place the start of the flood at the Cambrian.

And what is sad, to me, Baumgardner knows this is a problem. Steven Austin asked this question about earlier configurations of the continents and Baumgardner simply ignored the problem and never again mentioned it. Austin wrote:

“The Assumption concerning the configuration of Pangea in early Paleozoic time will need to be substantiated by further research. Are there evidences for Cambrian rifting of Pangea?” Steven A. Austin, “Discussion,” in John R. Baumgardner, “3-D finite Element Simulation of the Global Tectonic Changes Accompanying Noah's Flood,” Proc. Of the Second International Conference on Creationism, Vol. II, (Pittsburgh: Creation Science Fellowship, 1990), p. 45

Baumgardner ignores data to the contradiction of his thesis when he replies:

“My own view is that the pre-Flood continental configuration was likely similar to reconstructions of Pangea as indeed I suggest in my paper. This conviction is based on geological considerations as well as geophysical ones. Geological observations indicated the Paleozoic Caledonian orogeny indisputably involved North America and Northern Europe. This Caledonian upheaval involves the opening and closing of a proto-Atlantic, but the spatial relationship between North America and Europe prior to this event does not seem to be significantly different from what it was afterward. I suspect a similar sort of early Paleozoic tectonic upheaval occurred among the five southern continents (Africa, South America, Antarctica, Australia, and India) that formed Gondwanaland. Although their late Precambrian spatial relationships are a matter of debate and speculation as the Science News article indicates, since they display so many common geological features and a distinctive Paleozoic flora and fauna, it is almost certain that the five blocks were in close proximity in the late Precambrian, I.e., at the onset of the Flood.” John R. Baumgardner, “Discussion,” in John R. Baumgardner, “3-D finite Element Simulation of the Global Tectonic Changes Accompanying Noah's Flood,” Proc. Of the Second International Conference on Creationism, Vol. II, (Pittsburgh: Creation Science Fellowship, 1990), p. 45

But the motion of the pre-Permian continents are not consistent with what Baumgardner proposes. And the Paleozoic continental distribution is not the Pangean distribution.

The YEC leaders don't talk about this issue when they support runaway subduction. It doesn't make it into their literature. If it hadn't been for this one question by Austin, this problem would not be there at all. As I have said, not a single geological feature I was taught by the YECs (if it differed from conventional geology) turned out to be true. All YEC geology is fraught with problems (read that as observationally falsified).

One final problem for Baumgardner's runaway subduction. He writes (and I can't find where he solved this problem ):

“One difficulty in making a connection between these calculations and the Flood is their time scale. Some 2 x 10^7 years is needed before the instability occurs in the second calculation. Most of this time is involved with the accumulation of a large blob of cold, dense material at the barrier created by the phase transition at 600 km depth.” John R. Baumgardner, “Runaway Subduction as the Driving Mechanism for the Genesis Flood,” Proceedings of the Third International Conference on Creationism, (Pittsburgh: Creation Science Fellowship, Inc., 1994), p. 74

It would take 20 million years to get runaway subduction going. This feature is not mentioned again to the best of my knowledge.

Runaway subduction is a sham. Why the YEC laity trusts their leadership is beyond me.

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